STEM Showcase for Alachua County K-5 Teachers

By Natalie Richoux

In our August and September issue of Giggle, we published an article titles “Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling of STEM” which discussed the importance of girls interested in STEM related fields pursuing those interests and the various resources available in Alachua County for girls interested in STEM fields. On Wednesday, October 17, I spent time at the STEM is Elementary: Engineering Showcase for K-5 Educators where approximately 70 elementary teachers from around Alachua County gathered to learn more about STEM fields and the ways they can incorporate STEM into their curriculum.

The showcase featured Dr. Chelsey Simmons, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Florida and Dr. Renee Simmons, professor emeritus from the University of Florida. Dr. Chelsey Simmons stressed that engineering is more than just building a bridge but is everything from prosthetics for individuals to designing a can of hairspray to textiles for clothing and that engineering happens on both a big and small level. Dr. Chelsey Simmons said one way K-5 teachers can incorporate STEM into lesson plans is by focusing on the practices and dispositions of STEM careers and professionals which include: communication, writing, reading, planning, a growth mindset, creativity and flexibility and resilience and persistence and that STEM can’t be successfully incorporated into a classroom with a short, 10 minute lesson. Dr. Renee Simmons echoed these sentiments by stating that many of the ways teachers can encourage and teach STEM meet many ELA standards teachers have to meet and are great ways to help children grow and expand in other areas of their academics through certain STEM practices such as writing and communication.

The showcase also followed up on a grant that allowed 6 K-5 educators to spend time in labs this summer for six weeks running different things and being a part of actual STEM projects to gain hands on experience in a STEM field. Their lab work was Monday thru Thursday from 8:30 to 3:30, with the last hour and half of the day and Fridays spent developing lesson plans for their classrooms, going on field experience trips and being in the field. These teachers, along with UF professors and graduate students, then presented 15 minute demonstrations of activities and lessons teachers can incorporate into their classroom.

After the speakers had finished, teachers selected which small scale, 15 minute demonstration they wanted to attend with 12 different topics ranging from Engineering a Marshmallow Catapult to Minnow Madness  to Make Way for 3-D Printing. Teachers spent 15 minutes at each demonstration and could go to three different demonstrations which came with a lesson plan sheet to take with them. Additionally, Dr. Chelsey Simmons built into the grant supplies for teachers to teach the lessons.

Alachua County is making strides towards providing growth opportunities for teachers and students interested in STEM and this showcase is the first one held in collaboration with UF and will continue for the next two years with hopes they can secure funding to make this an annual showcase that runs for many years.